Rural municipalities could receive a significant boost in infrastructure funding when the federal budget is tabled in late March, says a representative of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
Doug Dobrowolski, president of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities and an FCM board member, said rural governments need significant new funds to maintain and replace aging infrastructure.
And the FCM, supported by big city mayors, has been lobbying hard to get it in the next budget.
In a presentation Feb. 26 to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture annual meeting, Dobrowolski said Ottawa is being asked for an additional $2.5 billion per year in stable and predictable funding to add to $5 billion that is now transferred through gas tax rebates and other federal funding.
He said the FCM is also lobbying to index the funding to inflation and help smaller rural municipalities evaluate and manage their assets and determine what investment is needed.
“The message we have heard is that we will be getting something in the budget, although at this point we don’t know how much,” he said after his CFA presentation.
Dobrowolski urged farm leaders, many of whom also serve on local councils, to keep up the pressure.
He said the rural infrastructure “deficit” reached $123 billion in 2007 after 15 years of infrastructure underfunding that started in the 1990s, “and it has grown since then.”
Finance minister Jim Flaherty promised a “long-term plan for public infrastructure” in the 2011 budget, but almost $2 billion in federal infrastructure funding is set to disappear next year if the pledge is not renewed.
“We think the next budget will deal with that, but we have to keep getting the message across,” Dobrowolski told CFA members. “Your voice counts and I ask you to be heard.”
He said the message to government is that Canada’s economy requires modern rural infrastructure, including roads and bridges, if resources from rural areas are to be moved efficiently to markets.
The FCM has identified roads, bridges, water systems and waste water treatment as investment priorities.